Friday, November 2, 2018

Homeless Program Coordinator Calls it Quits

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

MWHI Program Coordinator Ali Treichel, 10/30/18
The Mid Willamette Hopeless Initiative Steering Committee (MWHISC) bid farewell to its Program Coordinator this week.  Ali Treichel, who's become a familiar face in the community of local social services providers over the past ten months, is leaving her position at the MWVCOG to take a job closer to her home in southeast Portland.  In her new position, she will be  providing contracted services to Multnomah County as a community health education coordinator.  The steering committee, which had only praise for her work at their meeting on October 30th, is currently recruiting a replacement.  Applications are due by November 30, see here for details. Also see the 11/1/18 Statesman Journal article by Capi Lynn, "Salem-area homeless coordinator secured for second year, challenges remain."

Treichel's departure leaves incomplete several projects in the one-year work plan adopted this past summer (see here and here).  She was, however, able to complete the "Service and Resource Inventory Map", and present her initial findings to the committee this past week (also see here).

Same unidentified man, different story
 The Statesman Journal quotes Treichel as saying "We have a bunch of smaller systems that often work in tandem, but it's not a streamlined system, and that's considered best practice."  Her  assessment, according to the article, "confirmed what the...steering committee...and those who work with the homeless already knew."

But the article gets a couple of things wrong.  Lynn  reported that there "is no centralized list for prioritizing housing and shelter placements", and that data gathered in the 2018 Point-in-Time Count could have been used to start such a list.  

In fact, there is a centralized list.  It's maintained by The ARCHES Project, and the data in it was gathered by trained staff using an assessment tool called the "VI-SPDAT", which stands for vulnerability index service prioritization decision assistance tool.  The problem is, not enough providers use the list to prioritize placements, and that allows for cherry picking.  

Treichel's written report, dated August 10, 2018, but made public and presented on October 30, 2018, states that, as part of the mapping assignment, she was to identify "gaps and inefficiencies within the regional service continuum [of Marion and Polk Counties] as compared to best practice solutions and frameworks."  The report makes findings in four subject areas:  (1) the coordinated homelessness response system, (2) sheltering services outside the Salem-Keizer area, (3) shelter, and (4) housing.

With respect to (1), Treichel found that the "coordinated homelessness response both fragmented and largely uncoordinated" and lacking "key elements needed for an efficient response to homelessness", beginning with a functioning coordinated entry system.  (See our December 16, 2017 post, "Coordinated Entry After One Year", here.)  To address the problem that not enough providers use the list to prioritize placements, Treichel recommended that "participating jurisdictions require providers that receive funding to collect and input quality, timely and comprehensive shareable, data and fully participate in" the local coordinated entry system, with exceptions for programs serving youth and those fleeing domestic violence, etc.

The findings in (2) through (4) can be summed up with "additional sheltering options are needed to serve families of all types and individuals of all need levels" throughout the area.  Treichel recommended that "[a]ny new shelters should be low barrier" and that "the next coordinator further explore the creation of a multi-jurisdictional [housing] development team (originally included as part of the initial year-one work plan."        

Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility
Notably absent from the report to the committee was any mention of the City of Salem's recent interest in the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility as a possible low barrier shelter option (see here and last paragraph here).  Hillcrest closed in September 2017, after the state determined an upgrade to meet modern standards was cost prohibitive.    

Treichel didn't know about the City's interest in Hillcrest, because the City didn't bother to include her in the October 3 "feasibility meeting" where it was discussed, and evidently, steering committee member Kristin Retherford, who did attend the meeting, didn't bother to tell her.

One has to wonder why the City is spending $45K/year on regional homeless program coordination.      

Councilor/Commissioner Lewis
The City also neglected to inform Councilor Lewis (Ward 8, West Salem), or anyone else from Polk County (which presently has no emergency shelter facility, low-barrier or otherwise) of the "feasibility meeting", or the interest in Hillcrest.  So, it was a little awkward when, at the last meeting of the Salem Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (October 22, 2018), Lewis asked SHA Administrator Andy Wilch about Hillcrest:   

There's been some talk about the Hillcrest interest is that there is a dormitory type building sitting there empty, and we have a homeless crisis.  So, putting those two things together, it makes sense to me -- is it usable, can we do it from a capacity standpoint, and let's assume for a minute that the State of Oregon just lets us use the building, if it's within our ability to use it for homelessness.  Comments?

To which Wilch replied,

Hillcrest's many pieces
About three years ago, we went up and looked at the same units that you're talking about, and at that time, we didn't really see the need...the market has changed a lot, for a lot of our clients.  And so we are having some additional conversations, working with the City and SHA.  I know there was a group that went up there [with] DAS...this afternoon to look at it.  One issue that I think is going to be hard to [overcome] is DAS will probably want to have a single sale.  So, unless they're willing to break up some of the pieces, it could be pretty hard to make that work.  But, if you want to, we could work on that, along with the City.

To which Commissioner Lewis replied:

I don't know if I'm interested in purchasing the property and using that part for homelessness.  I'm more interested in using it while it's still vacant or supposedly up for sale.

Whereupon the City Manager in his capacity as Executive Director of the Housing Authority reassured everyone that a report would be forthcoming.

In some ways, the City's Hillcrest project sounds a lot like what's going on in Eugene (just get 'em outta downtown) and Portland (say you'll do anything). 

Lime green = proposed site                                                                                 Red = existing site
Lane County is trying to move a camp set up as a protest from downtown out to an industrial area near Hwy 99 and Roosevelt Blvd.  As always, health and safety concerns are cited as reasons, but the proposed camp is actually closer to services.  Hillcrest, on the other hand, would not be close to services, many of which are downtown.

In Portland, gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler's promised to open Wapato for the homeless if he's elected.  But, as Darrin Brightman points out, the owner's already asked for and failed to receive any viable operating proposal, which suggests a homeless shelter is not a realistic option.  Hillcrest is certainly no more so, not that the City's bothered to ask any providers if they'd be interested, probably because it knows there aren't any.

So, is the City just going through the motions?  Is that why it didn't include Treichel or Lewis or Polk County in their conversations?  Maybe.  But if they're not just going through the motions, what are they doing? 

The MWHI Steering Committee hopes to have a new Program Coordinator starting in January 2019.

[11/10/18 Update: added links to Treichel's inventory map, initial findings and summary.]    

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